OPINION: My doctor told me not to get the test. Four years later, I was diagnosed with cancer

  • 08/09/2021

By Conor English 

OPINION: I felt great about turning 50. After six years, I had resigned from my full-time job the day before my half-century birthday. I wanted to spend my 50s doing different adventurous things. So I set up our exporting company and started flying regularly to China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Rwanda, to hustle, sell a range of products and explore those countries. 

As I had turned 50, I thought I would get a health Warrant of Fitness. So I went to my GP and asked him to give me all the tests that I could possibly have. I didn't care what they were, I just wanted the lot. No exceptions.

However when he came to tick the box on the form for a PSA test that can detect prostate cancer, his advice was that I shouldn't have that test, due to a trend of false positives which can create 'unnecessary stress'.

He put his hand on my shoulder and said "Conor, you shouldn't do the test".

Having been my doctor for quite some time, I acquiesced. He didn't tick that PSA test box with his ballpoint pen.

As it happened, my doctor moved on and it wasn't until four years later that I did get a PSA test.

I went to a new doctor for another matter and asked him to do one as an aside. A couple of weeks later, as I was leaving his consultancy room he said to me the PSA results had just come back. I had my hand on the doorknob to exit the surgery. Glancing back at him I asked what it said. 

"It's elevated," he said. 

I asked what that meant. 

He said I needed to see a specialist.

So began my inconvenient truth.

Conor English.
Conor English. Photo credit: Supplied.

From there I had biopsies, MRIs, CT/PET scans, blood tests. Eventually I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Even more inconveniently, after further testing it was confirmed that my cancer had spread beyond my prostate into my lymph system. This was an added risk and complication.

Obviously it takes time for cancer to spread. And my cancer may have had four years to do just that.

Over 650 people a year die from prostate cancer - more than twice the 2020 road toll.

Since my diagnosis, I have had an operation, six months of chemotherapy, a couple of months of radiotherapy, and ongoing hormone therapy. This is all a bit inconvenient, but it is the truth.

But even though it's is my inconvenient truth, I don't want it to be yours. So take responsibility and be proactive about your health.

It may or may not have made a difference if I had had my PSA tested when I did my Warrant of Fitness at 50. Who knows? But II do know that it would at least have given a baseline from which to measure. Logic suggests if I'd had a test that day, or in the next couple of years after that day, the cancer may have been detected earlier. Earlier detection simply leads to better treatment outcomes.

I would like to think that others might benefit from my experience. If you are a bloke and about 50, I would definitely suggest you get a PSA test.  It's a simple tick in the box and costs nothing.

Don't get talked out of it. 

My doctor suggested only one possible outcome – unnecessary stress.

But there are actually four possible outcomes: 

  1. You take the test, it returns negative – that's a great day. 
  2. It returns positive, but on further testing, you find out that there is not an issue. There's maybe been a little stress in between tests but in the end, it's an even greater day! 
  3. If on further examination it is still positive, you have detected it as early as you can so you can get treatment underway, thus increasing your chances of survival – so a very useful day.
  4. Or the last possible outcome: You don't take the test because of your doctor's advice. You do nothing. But you take it eventually, and on further examination, you find out that you do have to deal with cancer, and perhaps it's spread a little. 

To say it's not such a great day is an understatement. That's the day we had and I don't want you to have that same sort of day.

So guys, make your choice. Avoid some potentially unnecessary stress, or avoid an exceptionally inconvenient truth. Take responsibility for your health and get your PSA tested.  

If your doctor says you shouldn't get a PSA test, get another doctor.

Conor English is a director at Silvereye and a number of other entities. He is also the brother of former Prime Minister Bill English.